If you are prone to dismiss warnings about environmental destruction as exaggerations, you might as well stop reading right away.
You can also skip articles like the ones presented in the November issue of Ny Tid about ecosystems and a «new Dark Age», Norway’s environmental shortcomings, environmental prophets and eco-philosophers, CO2, tech optimists, the need for a green sovereign, compulsive growth and greenhouse effects.
The reason for putting you through this discomfort is the upcoming Zero Conference (to be held on the 7th and 8th of November), a couple of Nobel-prize winners, and the recently published IPCC report that follows up on the 2015 Climate Conference in Paris.
Let us start with the basic facts. About 1300 people will be gathered in Oslo to talk about green leadership, renewable energy and the next generation of solar cells, the plastic jungle, green transport, circular bio-economy and emission-free travel. This is Norway’s principal meeting place for discussion on climate, energy and green growth, and the event will be be introduced by chairman Hoesung Lee of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). The IPCC’s latest 1200 page report was drafted by 91 scientists from 44 countries. Since the Paris Climate Conference they have studied 6000 papers, according to The Economist. A thorough piece of work if there ever was one, and, according to Glen Peters at CICERO in Oslo, only 10 per cent of these studies are disputed. The remaining 90 per cent are supported by 100 per cent of the scientists.
So let us get to the point here: the limiting of global warming to 1.5 rather than 2 degrees Celsius above the temperatures recorded before the beginning of the Industrial Age. This excess of half of a degree may more than halve the habitat for a vast number of insects, plants and vertebrates. To put it in more detail: 18 per cent, 16 per cent and 8 per cent respectively of these creatures will struggle for survival, depending on the rise in temperature. The half-degree seriously aggravates the situation by 50 per cent for parts of the Earth’s surface – for example savannahs becoming deserts. And corals? 99 per cent of them will disappear if future environmental efforts fail to respect the cap of 1.5 degrees, (which might at least allow 10-20 per cent to survive). One should not fail to mention the millions of people who will be displaced because of rising sea levels, or the 420 million who will have to live with prolonged heat waves, or the hundreds of millions affected by poverty caused by climate change.
Growth and consumption
Two people just shared the Nobel Prize in economy: The American Paul Romer was awarded the prize for his research on the ways in which science and technology impact long-term growth. To Die Zeit he highlights the growth promoted by industrialisation, and how he is optimistic about urbanisation, the kind we see in the US and Europe. There are environmental gains when it comes to transport, and the density of cities gives savings due to energy and electricity reaching more people with less distance. Granted, he is also aware that increased prosperity in urban areas increases consumption, which in turn makes for higher CO2 emissions. Indeed Zero, IPCC and Ny Tid know full well that annually 30 billion metric tons of CO2 is spewed into the atmosphere. The growth-economist Romer contends that the financial sector has harmed less people than nuclear energy.
I will leave it to you to consider the matter and move on to the prizewinner William Nordhaus – currently professor of economy at Yale – who, in the 70s, was actually the first to warn us about a 2 degree limit for global warming. His scientific models calculate complex relationships between CO2 emissions, the global temperature and economic growth. Most current analyses are based on his framework of economically optimised models for emissions. He has concurrently demonstrated the inherent difficulties in assessing the degree to which emissions contribute to temperature change. Furthermore, calculating how fast we will accommodate ourselves to a changing world is fraught with difficulties.
Norway is advancing the development of electric cars – an effort recently reported in the Danish newspaper Weekendavisen. Frede Vestergård mentions Norway in relation to the Paris Agreement. The CO2 emissions must be cut. By 2017 Norway had gotten about 210,000 electric and hybrid cars on the roads but were simultaneously criticised for unrestrained gas and oil extraction.
Many fail to keep themselves in check: New oil and gas fields are also found in the Mediterranean, Guyana, Bahrain, Australia, Oman and Madagascar. Fossil-energy consumption is on the rise despite repeated warnings, and hundreds of millions of people striving to escape poverty demand their share. The 2 per cent limit requirement, that only one third of the remaining fossil fuels should be extracted, seems far from being met. Norway, with all its wealth, seems to hypocritically blame the consumer – as if one should reproach kids for eating candy, to quote Vestergård.
And this brings me to better tidings.
According to The Economist’s report «A load of rubbish» (29.8.2018) Taiwan was formerly known for being environmentally disastrous. But today the growth economy’s slogan «take, make, dispose» in this big island state is substituted by «reduce, reuse, recycle». The next time you visit you might sit on a conference chair «forged» by plastic bottles, beer cans, food wrappings and shoe soles. Or get your coffee served in glass cups made from smashed iPhone screens. Taiwan takes the lead in the recycling race: 52 per cent of the country’s household waste and 77 per cent of industrial waste is reused. South Korea and Germany come close to the same results, whereas the US remains at only 26 and 44 per cent.
Well, as a consumer you also contribute to all this trash, globally amounting to 2 billion metric tons in 2016, which is expected to double by 2050. In contrast to industrial waste, we only manage to recycle 10 per cent of plastic from the consumer market. If you do attend the lecture on the plastic jungle at the Zero Conference on November 8, you should also be aware that if you had visited the beaches of Mumbai for a couple of days this summer you could have taken part in a campaign to pick up 12,000 metric tons of plastic that had drifted ashore from the ocean.
So is there a glimmer of hope? Who wants to join in on lowering western consumption by 10-30 per cent? Many will also lose their jobs, for example in the oil industry, in agriculture and in other primary sectors. According to estimates from the UN organisation for nutrition and agriculture, even stopping production of food that is ultimately thrown away would inflict annual losses in the food industry comparable to the Norwegian oil fund.
Yet now that China has decided to decline further shipping of waste from the West to their recycling plants, the West will have to get into recycling on a major scale. Such an effort may employ up to 20 times as many people in the trash and recycling sector as we see today. And so-called e-waste, such as gold in TVs, is potentially a significant source of income.
And finally: The Norwegian government has voted to adopt the environmental laws of the EU. More than half of the environment ministers have accepted the 1.5 degree limit recommended by the IPCC report. Any Westerner who wants to prove capable of long-term thinking and action will now realise the need to reduce, reuse, and recycle whatever they consume.